PHOENIX — When Brewers shortstop Mauricio Dubón was 7 years old, he made a bold proclamation to his older brother as the two ran around their backyard playing a game of baseball using a paper ball and broomstick bat.
“I am going to play in the big leagues!” Dubón, a native of Honduras, said.
At the time, the declaration perhaps seemed unlikely. But now, as he takes part in his first ever big league spring training camp, Dubón’s dream appears within reach.
“It was always something I had in my mind,” Dubón said Wednesday, “that I was going to go to the big leagues.”
His goal carries slight odds and grand responsibility. Honduras is better recognized for its soccer. Only one player in MLB history has hailed from the Central American country, Gerald Young, who played from 1987-94.
Dubón, the seventh-rated Brewers prospect by MLB.com, seeks to become the second Honduran to play major league ball, and the first considered to be born and raised there — Dubón didn’t migrate to the United States until he was 15.
“He’s a kid to root for because of that,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “You feel like you’re rooting for a country a little bit with baseball. You’re rooting for a country to start loving baseball because of a guy like that.”
Dubón’s hometown of San Pedro Sula helped mold him. As recently as 2013, it was considered to have the highest homicide rate in the world.
“You definitely learn how to take care of yourself over there,” Dubón said.
For leisure, Dubon and his friends often played soccer, but he always gravitated to baseball. Playing with his brother and father, both named Danilo, ignited his interest.
“I always saw them playing baseball, so I always said I wanted to play baseball too,” Dubón said. “Since then, I’ve just been in love with the sport.”
View this post on Instagram
Happy birthday to the most influential person in my life since day 1, The main the reason why I am where I am, love him so much. He thought me to play baseball and he still does, couldn't ask for a better brother, all the laughs and tears we had together were the best moments for me love you ❤️ #blessed
His passion for baseball and life was always evident, and in the summer of 2010, it caught the eye of Andy Ritchey, a member of a visiting Christian baseball mission group.
Dubón, 23, still remembers the timeline. Ritchey and the group arrived Monday, saw Dubón on Tuesday, expressed interest in taking him back to the United States on Wednesday, told him “OK, we’re ready to take you” on Thursday, and then discussed it with his parents on Friday.
On Saturday, Dubón left for the U.S. with full support from his family. He called it a one week period that changed his life. Missionaries visiting the area was normal, but they didn’t usually take people back.
“I’ve never second-guessed,” he said. “No second thoughts. That was a God thing.”
Dubón lived with the Ritcheys at their home in Northern California. The transition and homesickness felt overwhelming at first, but as time progressed, he grew comfortable.
“I realized that a lot of people have success, but nothing good comes easy,” Dubón said. “Getting away from my family, I knew I was going to get something good out of it, and here I am right now.”
He attended Sacramento Capital Christian High, where he starred on the school’s baseball team. It led to him being selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round (773rd overall) of the 2013 MLB Draft. In December 2016, the Red Sox shipped Dubón to the Brewers as a key piece in a deal which also netted Milwaukee Travis Shaw.
“I knew I needed to work harder than everybody else because I knew I was a 26th-round draft pick,” Dubón said. “So I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder and I know I have to work harder than anybody else.”
Since joining the Brewers’ system, Dubón has continued to impress. Last season, he slashed a cumulative .274 batting average/.330 on-base percentage/.382 slugging percentage and stole 38 bases between stints with Class AA Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham played with Dubón at Class AA Biloxi last season and has a locker next to Dubón at the team’s Maryvale Baseball Park this spring. The pair keep each other level and enjoy pushing themselves to get better.
“We’re like sponges,” Nottingham said. “We just soak it all in and just try to do the best we can and learn as much as we can.”
Counsell said Dubón, who Milwaukee called up to its 40-man roster ahead of this year’s spring training camp, has proven himself defensively, touting all the ingredients of a major league shortstop.
“He’s definitely on the cusp (of reaching the big leagues),” Counsell said. “When you reach Triple A at that age, you’re on the cusp, for sure.”
The Brewers currently boast a talented player ahead of Dubón as their starting shortstop in Orlando Arcia. Meanwhile, Dubón is determined to break through, even if that means playing at another spot along the infield.
“I’m a baseball player,” he said. “Wherever you guys want to put me, wherever they need me, I’ll be good at it, I’ll play there. I’m good at adapting, so I’ll adapt to that position.”
If Dubón were to break through, it would be a monumental feat both individually and for the more than nine million Hondurans. Dubón embraces it. He even wears it in the form of the Honduran flag’s five-star pattern tattooed on his calf. Every winter he takes baseball equipment back to Honduras for children to use.
“When I see the Honduran flag at a baseball field, on a big league field or on a minor league field, I know it’s because of me,” he said. “That’s something that I take great pride in.”
Nottingham commended Dubón for his work in his community back home.
“He plays with a chip on his shoulder because he has a lot of people looking at him and watching him back home,” Nottingham said. “I know he’s making them proud. He’s making a lot of people here proud, so I know he’s just going to keep going.”
Representing Honduras, as well as making good on his childhood proclamation, would be a lifelong dream accomplished. He’s not quite there yet, but he understands inclusion with the Brewers’ spring roster is a step closer.
“I always pictured that first (major league) at-bat, picture how the country would feel, picture how my mom, having her in the stadium and everything,” Dubón said. “That would be — I’ve always dreamed of that. Now that I have a chance to have it, that’s something I won’t be able to forget.”